Something weird has been happening the past two months or so: Raw has been getting better. This is not a new take in the world of wrestling hot takes, but I thought it would be good to look at some of the reasons why Raw has gotten more entertaining and compare that to SmackDown. So let’s start out with….
The continuity and the flow of plots has been a step up and through-lines are actually materializing, providing more interesting plots. The most notable example is that of
Buddy Murphy and how his feud with Aleister Black helped establish a solid rationale for joining Seth Rollins’ faction. Murphy’s story easily flowed from one to another, making sense for how that happened. It was not simply Buddy going from Plot A to Plot B.
When stories and plots bleed into each other, it helps the cohesion of the show as a whole. I previously talked about this on an episodic level with SmackDown’s NXT episode, but it is more important that the same rule apply to the brands as a whole. Without such cohesion, the show is simply a lot of short installments of multiple, completely separate stories, lending to the ‘variety show’ feel; While that’s fine, does not lend itself for more interesting and complex plots.
That is not to say Raw can’t be better about this either. While plots overlapping or bleeding into each other has been something we have seen more, it still isn’t developed enough. Even small touches would be nice, for example on February 10th’s Raw the segway between the opening promo by Seth and Becky Lynch coming out was none existent. An odd moment took place when everyone from Seth’s segment filed past Becky, quiet and trying to stay out of the way, neither party really interacting with the other, which felt odd since we have made a huge deal in the past that Becky and Seth are dating.
SmackDown, meanwhile has had few intersecting plots, if any in recent memory. Instead, they have seemingly decided to not even bother creating new plot-lines — Corbin/Reigns will seemingly never end. Braun Strowman won the IC title for some reason after Shinsuke Nakamura held it for… some amount of time (honestly, I kept forgetting he held it). The Fiend had a fun plot with Daniel starting but it’s on hold for WWE’s blood money Saudi show. And Bray’s plot with The Miz just sort of…. ended.
This sort of muddling plot-line is not unusual to WWE. Time moves extremely slowly in the WWE world; no doubt because they have a monopoly on the industry and can get away with milking something for all it’s worth, able to play it safe with tried and true plots. But as Raw has slowly picked up pace with its stories (for WWE at least), SmackDown is stuck with the same mentality that gave us Shane McMahon’s plot for most of 2019.
Midcard wrestlers have seen a bit of a more interesting role in Raw recently, which is something Raw has failed with in the past. In the past, main eventers would get storylines and mid-carders would get, well, random matches with no through-line. Slowly however, every segment has felt more and more important. In the past I’ve felt able to zone out during half of the matches because I knew they would result in nothing. The past two months or so, everything Raw has put on has felt like it would contribute in some way to the plot. Sure, not everything has and sure, they still have room to grow here, but once again, it is an area where the show has grown.
Compare that to SmackDown, which has the disadvantage of not having an extra hour. But even with one less hour of time, the aforementioned muddling plot-lines has made it impossible to get anyone who isn’t Baron or Roman any screen time, let alone an interesting plot. Mid-carders can’t be featured if we have to deal with dog food for the millionth time.
Tone is another issue which Raw seems to have gotten a little better with, at least since the Russev/Lashley feud ended. That is not to say that I favor the less silly, but simply that the tone has in the past year been extremely up in the air with episodes jumping between over the top comical to serious and realistic from segment to segment.
For instance, three months ago when we had mysterious promos from Aleister Black, speaking cryptically of his life philosophy with slightly supernatural undertones, followed immediately after by yet another cuckold plot-line, shifting suddenly to an extremely serious match which asked us to treat it like a legitimate combat sport. Raw was unable to pick a lane. Yet this past month, there has been a good compromise among storylines and finding a solid middle ground. Just the right amount of humor and just the right amount of serious plots. Seth Rollins as the Monday Night Messiah is just silly enough to have a fun quirk but not be overbearing on other aspects of the show. R-Truth challenging Paul Heyman is silly enough for a great laugh, but not so over-the-top to overshadow any following segment.
Tone is something SmackDown has never had a problem with, at least not in the past couple of years. It has retained the silly, more whimsical tone; from The Miz to Rusev, SmackDown has always embraced the sillier side of WWE. And they have done a good job maintaining that certain more whimsical tone with the supernatural Fiend, or Corbin, who seems to have watched Game of Thrones and wants to be a king from Westeros. This is one of the only areas SmackDown excels in currently; however, this may be more due to inertia than active decisions at this point.
In these respects, (and a few less obvious ones) Raw has surpassed SmackDown as the superior show, which is good since during 2019 both shows were sliding down in quality. Hopefully throughout 2020 Raw will continue to grow and expand on what they have done already. One would hope that SmackDown will follow suit, but they have shown no effort in doing so; and until SmackDown does, must-see TV will be on Monday nights, not Fridays. Sorry Miz.
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